If you ask me to name one beautiful valley in Bhutan, my answer would be Gangtey. The famous bowl shaped valley under Wangdi Phodrang district. Why? It isn’t just the valley’s picturesque landscape that makes it so alluring to visitors. It is also the beautiful story of conservation and tourism that makes this valley so unique and a sought-after tourist destination in Bhutan. But most know the valley for its green picturesque summer landscape. What’s it like in winter?
So, while many in Thimphu packed their bags for some place warm, we decided to do just the opposite. We headed higher up towards the mountains. I received an invitation to Gangtey Lodge, a small luxury hotel located above Gangtey Monastery. That got me interested in exploring the valley in winter. .
You’ll find scores of images of Gangtey’s summer shades colored with luscious green and blue hues across the valley’s mountains. But in winter the rich colors of summer disappear. Like the colors fading from a painting, leaving the artwork with only the earthy beige tone of the canvas. I have always felt that the cold brings with it a certain desolate isolation that drives people away from it. And I’m someone constantly looking to escape the cold every time it unpleasantly makes its presence. But this trip gave me a lot of reasons to fall in love with the cold season.
About Gangtey Lodge
There’s something about Gangtey Lodge that reminds you of a secluded monastic retreat in the Himalayas. But with all the splendor that come with luxury hotels.
This unique stone & wood lodge makes the most of its idyllic surrounding. Step out on the lodge’s grand terrace overlooking the vastness of the valley. It has the most beautiful view of the valley. The giant floor to ceiling windows present a beautiful landscape backdrop to the warm lounge room. It is designed with tall narrow timber columns very similar to Kachhens in temples. The lodge’s simple yet traditionally intricate design choices let you indulge in the best that Gangtey offers. It is a peaceful haven in a piece of heaven.
Did you know that the Luxury Lodge won quite a few travel awards? The most prominent is winning the no. 5 ranking on the Top 15 Resort Hotels in Asia list by Travel & Leisure.
The lodge has 12 luxury suites, each designed with traditional earthy tone walls and bedding with the comfort of a luxury hotel. The heated floors and blazing fire in the Bukhari add to the room’s cozy ambience. But the best feature of the suite is the luxury bath tub overlooking Gangtey’s gorgeous landscape. The room costs 950$USD during Peak season (spring and autumn) 450$ during off season.
Winter in Gangtey Valley
One of the main reasons to visit Gangtey in winter is to catch a glimpse of the endangered black necked cranes. The marshes at the base of the glacial valley turn into an ideal winter home for these birds from October till March.
I took a morning stroll around Simchubara, the village right below the monastery. I was lucky enough to see a few of the cranes up close right in the fields of the village. You’ll be tempted to get closer to the birds for a photo but be careful not to crouch into their space. The valley has always prioritized protecting the habitat of the cranes over many developmental projects. Did you know that the community even moved a school because it was in the zone of the roosting area? So the next time you’re going towards the valley to see the cranes, try to appreciate the view from designated bird watching spots in the valley.
The endangered Black Necked Cranes are part of Phobjikha valley’s identity. Farmers here see the birds’ arrival as a good omen and look forward to their visit every winter.
The Endangered Black Necked Cranes
Across South Asia, there are as few as 5,000 of the Black Necked Cranes in the wild. Around 500 fly into Bhutan from Tibet. Grazing, agriculture, and hydroelectricity have all taken a toll on the high-altitude wetlands that the birds depend on. Climate change may further alter their habitat. With support from RSPN (Royal Society for the Protection of Nature) the community also celebrates an annual Crane Festival in November at the Monastery. Namgye, my guide from Gangtey Lodge shared that the valley has also seen an increase in the number of cranes flying into the valley. Kudos to Phobjikha for setting a great example on how conservation and ecotourism can work hand in hand for a better future.
Gangtey Nature Trail in Winter
The last time I had walked the famous Gangtey Valley View trail was a summer morning of 2016. .
The valley was in its luscious green glory. Today I walk on this very same trail but with a completely different visage. The open glades of the valley with its earthy shade somehow seem limitless. The cold wind comes straight at your face and bite your apple frosted cheeks. Look up & embrace the warm winter sun instead of constantly shielding it with a sun hat. But it’s all worth an experience.
What has been the most luxurious travel experience you’ve treated yourself with? For me was the private woodshed dining experience arranged by the lodge. The small wood shed is lit by tea light candles and the crackling fire from the tiny bukhari. The lodge’s chef serves a 4 course meal and after dessert you get an option of having the entire warm shed to yourself. I spent that time with a nice glass of wine near the fire. If you want to enjoy the view, you can also opt to have breakfast or tea there as well.
Thus ends my winter getaway to Gangtey valley with an amazing hot stone spa experience. I am so grateful, and to an extent, quite undeserving of the luxurious and wonderful weekend at Gangtey Lodge. Thank you so much for this getaway.
Fore more information on Gangtey Lodge go to www.gangteylodge.com